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Researchers Test Animal Reactions to Classical and ‘Species-Specific’ Music


Every mammal, including humans, processes music differently. Each species typically gravitates towards music that falls within their vocal range and prefers tempos that mimic their natural heartbeat.



David Teie, cellist for the National Symphony Orchestra, has been experimenting with ‘animal-specific’ music since 2009. He began his animal studies with tamarins, monkeys that communicate three octaves higher than humans and heart rates twice as fast. This research collaboration with Charles Snowdon, an animal psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, involved creating two compositions. Both incorporated tones imitating an excited monkey, but one had an upbeat tempo and the other had a slow tempo. When exposed to the fast version, the tamarins became agitated and active, while the mellow tune made them calm and social. (Source



After his research with tamarins, David Teie moved on to compose music for cats. The pieces, written specifically for domestic felines, simulate a cat’s resting heart rate, while incorporating familiar vocal tones.

Further research by University of Wisconsin looked for the differences when cats were exposed to human music versus cat music. The results showed six out of 10 cats prefer ‘animal-specific’ music.

Last year, his Kickstarter to create a cat album generated over 10 times its original goal of $20,000. The final result was tested at Washington DC’s Crumbs and Whiskers cat cafe. Watch Teie’s BBC interview here.

In the future, Teie hopes to develop music to help rehabilitate abused and abandoned dogs, and music for whales living in captivity. (Source



Composing music specifically for dogs can be a challenge because of the variety of vocal tones and heart rate, based on the breed. In fact, some dogs can respond well to human music.

Dr. Deborah Wells of Queen’s University in Belfast proved dogs can distinguish human music of different genres, and behave differently depending on what is playing. Similar to the primates in Teie and Snowdon’s research, the dogs were more relaxed when listening to classical and more agitated with heavy metal. (Source



Dr. Wells extended her research to elephants at the Belfast zoo. These large animals do not cope well once in captivity because of their instinct to roam. Dr. Wells’ classical music experiment was comprised of three five-day periods: five days without music, five with music, and five more days without. The elephant’s exposure to classical music reduced their abnormal, self-harming behaviors, while keeping normal habits like eating intact. Read more about Dr. Wells’ research here. 


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